According to the Scottish food agency’s annual report, a challenging economic climate has led to tough decisions about work priorities.

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) mentioned the knock-on effects of leaving the European Union and a prioritization exercise following a reduced budget. The agency also flagged the “huge amount of already limited resources” that were “unnecessarily” pulled into planning around the Retained EU Law (REUL) (Reform and Revocation) Bill.

The prioritization work identified activities that will be continued and those that should be halted, paused, scaled back, or not started while ensuring the agency maintained its statutory obligations.

In the second year of the corporate plan 2021 to 2024, there were 108 topics. Around half were completed while work on most began, but some were not started due to budgetary, resource, and contractual challenges. Examples of successful work included raising awareness of Campylobacter risks in groups suffering the most significant burden of illness and a survey on the chemical contamination of oats, oat products, and plant-based milk.

Ongoing challenges

FSS has started a project to assess the viability of using data from third-party assurance schemes to inform official controls. This is also part of the Scottish Authorities Food Enforcement Rebuild (SAFER) project, which aims to modernize the delivery of official controls in Scotland. The lack of resources within local authorities for food law enforcement has been identified as a high risk.

The creation of the Scottish Veterinary Service (SVS) will also impact FSS, as animal health and welfare functions will be moved from the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

One hundred thirty-nine incidents were investigated compared to 120 from 2021 to 2022. No detail was shared on their nature, but the busiest period was April to June 2022.

From 2022 to 2023, 4,755 samples were tested and reported for chemical, microbiological, substitution, and labeling, compared to 2,408 from 2021 to 2022. There were 354 completed inspections, up from 266 in 2021 to 2022.

A review of contaminants associated with fish and fishery products from UK waters was commissioned. Findings will be used to develop a risk-based sampling regime to underpin future monitoring and will be shared with industry and enforcement authorities to enable the targeting of checks on these products. The final report is due to be published shortly.

FSS has also published risk assessments on Listeria in smoked fish and blue cheese, norovirus in oysters, and allergen risks from the substitution of oils resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Glycerol update and FSA incidents

In January 2024, FSS reported it had been made aware of another illness in a child who consumed a slush ice drink. FSS and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) issued voluntary industry guidance in 2023 on glycerol in these drinks after children fell sick in Lanarkshire in 2021 and Edinburgh in 2022.

Glycerol is an ingredient in slush ice drinks to prevent the liquid from freezing. It is allowed as an additive, and there are no limits. Glycerine is another name for Glycerol.

Scottish local authorities were asked to contact businesses selling slush ice drinks and inform them of the guidance. It states that sales of affected drinks should be accompanied by a written warning visible at the point of sale: ‘’Product contains glycerol. Not recommended for children 4 years of age and under’’.

The FSA has also published its annual report, which shows the agency was notified of 2,038 food and feed safety incidents in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales during 2022-23. This is down from 2,336 incidents in 2021-22.

The top four hazard types were pathogenic microorganisms, allergens, poor or insufficient controls, and residues of veterinary medicinal products. Meat and meat products, except poultry, were behind the most incidents in 2022-23 and remained the top product type since 2019, partly because they are among the most frequently tested.

In 2022, reports of Salmonella increased but not to pre-pandemic levels, whereas Campylobacter and Listeria monocytogenes remained comparable to pre-COVID-19 levels. Reports of STEC O157 rose in 2022 to the highest UK rate since 2015. This increase is mostly due to two large national outbreaks in the summer, one foodborne and one person-to-person.

Between January and December 2022, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) and FSA investigated more than 40 new or ongoing outbreaks linked to food.

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